Michael Dean Cohen could be in more than a little trouble through his role as President Donald Trump’s lawyer, but before his name became synonymous with hush money payoffs, he was just another boy growing up in the Five Towns.
Cohen grew up in Lawrence off Central Avenue. His mother, Sondra, was one of several parents who volunteered to fundraise for Hillel, the Jewish Day School Cohen attended. Hillel, which was in Lawrence, merged with the Hebrew Institute of Long Island of Far Rockaway to form the Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns and Rockaway in 1978. His father, Maurice, was an ear nose and throat surgeon. A Holocaust survivor, Maurice and his family escaped from a Nazi concentration camp in their native Poland. The couple live in Boca Raton, Fla.
Several years before he was bar mitzvahed at Congregation Beth Sholom synagogue, also in Lawrence, Cohen was introduced to politics as a youngster by a neighbor who invited him to campaign with then New York City Mayor John Lindsay in Atlantic Beach, Brooklyn and Queens.
Lindsay, who ran for president in 1972 as Democrat after switching his political party allegiance from the GOP, was in Atlantic Beach for a dedication of the John F. Kennedy Memorial at the northbound approach to the Atlantic Beach Bridge.
“He was just another boy who was well liked by his friends, including my three sons,” said longtime Lawrence resident Jacqueline Handel, who was friends with Sondra and also fundraised for Hillel.
A 1984 graduate of the Woodmere Academy, Cohen, 51, was listed as general counsel to Trump in the listing of 100 alumni in 100 years of LWA’s centennial edition in 2012. A year later his job description was executive vice president of the Trump Organization in the 2013-14 school calendar.
He placed a blurb in that calendar that congratulated his daughter, Samantha, then 17, on reaching the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro in the summer of 2013, and raising more than $40,000 for the Eric Trump Foundation and the children of St. Jude’s Hospital. Woodmere Academy merged with Lawrence Country Day School to form LWA in 1990.
Listed as a Democrat for most of his life, Cohen ran as a Republican in an ill-fated bid for the 4th Council District seat on the Upper East Side of Manhattan in 2003. In his candidate statement he said: “I have learned that most people want the same things: an opportunity to be rewarded for our labors, quality education, safe streets and housing, better transportation and sound public spending.” Five years later, he voted for Barack Obama for president.
As Trump ran for president, Cohen’s professional life became more public as it was reported he allegedly made a 2016 pay off to Stephanie Clifford, an adult film actress who works under the name Stormy Daniels, for $130,000 in exchange for her silence after reportedly having an affair with Trump. On April 9, FBI agents raided Cohen’s home, his law office and his bank safety deposit box. Officials said it was related to the Daniels’ payoff.
One week after the raid, federal Judge Kimba Wood has yet to decide as of press time, which of the two parties should get to have the first review of the materials the FBI seized.
Wood said she is considering appointing a special master to help review the materials, and Trump would subsequently get copies of the documents that relate to him. The judge did compel Cohen to reveal the identity of another client. It was Fox News commentator Sean Hannity. A strident supporter of Trump.